Vegan Diet And Hair Loss (Causes and Fixes)

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When I started a vegan diet, my hair improved in quality and thickness, but those benefits never lasted more than just a few years. At first, I thought my hair was just seasonal shedding but this time it was different, I was losing my hair and I had no idea what was causing it.

When you start on a vegan diet, people say that you’ll have amazing health, skin, and hair. And for the most part, I experienced big improvements in every aspect of my health. But I became too complacent and my health started to suffer. I also developed skin problems and faced months unrelenting acne breakouts, where nothing worked to stop it.

So I can totally relate and understand that the situation can be very frustrating, but the good news is that if you’ve suddenly started losing your hair on a vegan diet, there could be a few potential reasons for it and also some easy solutions.

Later in the article, I will talk about my recovery of zinc deficiency and what happened with my hair.

Reasons for hair loss on a vegan diet

Here are some of the best ways you tackle hair loss if you think it’s caused by your diet

1. You’re deficient in Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral in the human body and can be severely lacking in some plant-based, vegan diets.

We don’t need a lot of it to be healthy, but unfortunately, it’s more abundant in animal foods. There is also the problem that zinc and copper compete for absorption in the stomach, and a diet high in copper can inhibit the absorption of zinc.

Zinc deficiency can develop over a long period of time. Usually, vegans will not be severely zinc deficient, but even mild deficiencies may cause noticeable health problems, including significant hair loss via several mechanisms, which includes increased conversion of testosterone to DHT.

One study showed that mean serum zinc concentrations in all patients with hair loss were much lower than control patients who didn’t have any hair loss.

Another study showed that supplementing zinc in patients with alopecia areata could improve their condition. They saw a benefit in 9 out of 15 patients, and patients who benefited the most were those who saw a bigger increase in serum zinc levels.

The study used zinc gluconate at 50 mg per day.

However, if you’re going to try and supplement zinc, you should think about taking zinc picolinate, as this form appears to be more effective in raising serum zinc levels compared to any other form of zinc (see my post on that here).

Here are a few symptoms of zinc deficiency

  1. Poor immune system (catching viral infections more frequently)
  2. Dermatitis of the skin and scalp
  3. Brittle nails and hair
  4. Dry skin
  5. Changes in taste and poor appetite
  6. Hair loss
  7. Diarrhea
  8. Acne

If you have any of those symptoms, consider supplement zinc picolinate.

Also, increase your intake of foods such as legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains.

Taking a vitamin C supplement may also improve the absorption of zinc from your diet or supplement.

2. You’re low in Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 can be reasons for hair loss when following a vegan diet. It should be supplemented by every vegan, but unfortunately, many vegans are not aware of this fact.

Deficiency in B12 can cause many health problems that lead to hair loss. One of the consequences of a deficiency in B12 is the production of abnormal red blood cells which are not able to properly transport oxygen to the hair follicles, and therefore leads to reduced oxygen levels, cellular stress and hair fall.

Hair follicle cells undergo a high level of cell division, and B12 is crucial in the process of cell replication. Therefore, a B12 deficiency can disrupt this normal process and cause diffuse hair loss.

Fortunately, in most cases, hair loss will stop once B12 deficiency is corrected (assuming there are no other deficiency and conditions contributing to it).

Check out my article on the most absorbable form of b12.

Here are a few symptoms of B12 deficiency

  1. Feeling tired all the time and weakness
  2. Non-restorative sleep
  3. Pale skin
  4. Heart palpitations
  5. Nerve symptoms such as tingling, numbness, and burning
  6. Sore tongue
  7. Disturbances in vision
  8. Feeling anxious and irritable
  9. Hair loss

You should wait at least 6 months before you’re likely to see improvements. Hair has to go through cycles and it can take a few cycles before it grows back strong and healthy.

3. Iron Deficiency

Iron deficiency can affect anyone, but vegans might be more likely to develop a deficiency due to not eating meat, which contains the most absorbable form of iron.

Iron deficiency can take quite a while to develop because the body stores it, but a simple blood test can determine if you have it or at risk of developing it (speak to your doctor about a ferritin test).

Blood cells (which contain iron) deliver oxygen to the cell in our body, so making sure you get plenty of iron-rich foods is important.

Females may need to supplement more often than males, but both sexes should get a blood test before and after starting a vegan diet and occasionally keep track of their ferritin levels.

Here are a few symptoms of iron deficiency

  1. Feeling like you’re getting short of breath even doing simple activities
  2. Heart palpitations
  3. Pale skin, nails, and gums
  4. Lack of energy
  5. Brittle hair, skin, and nails
  6. Hair loss
  7. Feeling cold

If you have an iron deficiency, correcting it will reverse any hair loss that you’ve experienced.

Taking vitamin C along with foods or supplements which are high in iron may help increase absorption.

4. Low intake of Lysine

L-lysine is responsible for our hair shape and volume. It’s an amino acid that is not often talked about as a cause for persistent hair shedding and hair loss, but it’s a very important one.

Studies have shown that supplementing lysine can stop hair loss and improve iron status because of its ability to help iron absorption. And double-blind data suggests that increasing both iron and lysine in women over 50 who experience hair loss can reduce hair shedding.

Lysine can be an amino acid which is more difficult to get on a plant-based, vegan diet. And combined with low iron intake, this can spell disaster for hair growth and quality.

5. Vitamin D deficiency

In the winter months, many of us don’t get anywhere near enough vitamin D. We primarily get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, and a small amount from our diet.

Depending on where you live and your skin color, it can be more difficult to get enough sun to raise vitamin D levels enough to last you throughout the winter if you live in the northern hemisphere.

Vitamin D has been linked to hair loss and is easily solved by taking a vitamin D supplement.

Finding a vitamin D supplement that is suitable for vegans can be challenging in the local health stores, but there are many supplements available online which source their vitamin D from lichens (a vegan source of vitamin D).

It’s been well established that vitamin D is important in stem cell renewal and development of keratinocytes and anagen initiation.

Human studies have also been conducted and shown that low levels of vitamin D may lead to significant hair loss in females.

Check out my articles on vitamin D3 supplements for vegans and vitamin D rich foods for vegans.

6. Low-calorie intake and significant weight loss

It’s natural for vegans to spontaneously lower their energy intake when they start the diet. Sudden and significant weight loss can cause a lot of changes in the body and may lead to temporary hair loss until weight loss stabilizes.

Assuming you’re getting all of your vitamins and minerals, your hair will likely grow back much stronger and healthier than before.

That being said, if you’re on severe calorie restriction, this can have an effect on your thyroid hormones, testosterone, and estrogen, and lead to hair thinning.

If you’re approaching a BMI of less than 18, you may be at risk of thinning hair (but not always). It might be worth increasing your energy intake slightly to see if you notice any improvements in hair growth.

As always, any improvements in hair is likely to take several months, so you’re going to have to be patient.

7. Androgenetic alopecia

man getting his hair cut
Hair loss can be embarrassing but there are many ways to deal with it!

Unfortunately, even if you’re eating a vegan diet, sometimes it’s a losing battle when your genetics aren’t on your side. If you are male and have the typical signs of male pattern baldness, it can be difficult to combat hair loss naturally.

There might be ways to slow it down by lowering levels of DHT using foods and supplements. However, there still needs to be more research to confirm the effectiveness of some of these.

Below are a few supplements which may help with androgenetic alopecia in men according to research and clinical studies.

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil has been studied in men who were suffering from Androgenetic alopecia. One study showed that men who were given a supplement had a 30% increase in hair growth at 12 weeks and 40% increase in hair growth at 24 weeks.

Men who were taking the placebo did not experience any significant hair growth during the period of the study.

Pumpkin seed oil is found to be helpful in many ways. It is anti-inflammatory, blocks DHT, regulate blood glucose levels, and has significant antioxidant properties.

Spearmint

Spearmint is a natural anti-androgen and has the ability to reduce total and free testosterone in females and males. Therefore it may be effective in reducing the amount of testosterone that is converted to DHT.

However, there are no studies available to support the use of spearmint as a treatment for androgenetic alopecia.

Men using spearmint for hair loss should be aware of the potential side effects of using spearmint for hair loss.

Licorice

Licorice can be a powerful anti-androgen. Studies have shown that in both men and women, licorice can significantly reduce total testosterone. In men, it can half testosterone levels at just 7 grams per day and then return to baseline 4 days after discontinuing.

Licorice has not been studied for use as a treatment for androgenetic alopecia, however, due to the fact that it reduces testosterone levels, it may slow down hair loss.

Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is one of the most popular natural hair loss treatments in men. Studies have been mixed, but in August 2016, a study showed that supplementing with saw palmetto was effectiveness in men and increased terminal hair length.

Soy foods and isoflavones

Soy tends to be a popular choice among vegans, so it’s likely that you’re already getting some in your diet.

When you consume soy for a long period of time, your gut bacteria change and you start being able to convert soy isoflavones to an estrogenic metabolite called equol, which is able to bind to DHT and prevent it from attacking hair follicles.

Finasteride

Finasteride still remains the best and most effective treatment for men who are experiencing hair loss. Studies have shown that it is effective and can reverse hair loss when started early enough.

Medications can come with side effects, so this is usually the last option for most men. However, the risk of side effects is still quite low and almost always reversible according to studies long-term clinical studies.

As I don’t want to be misleading in this article, I have been taking finasteride (1 mg per day) for a while now and it did significantly improve my hair thickness and growth.

However, as I mentioned before, zinc deficiency initiated significant (temporary) hair loss, as well as many other health problems, which were all resolved by taking a daily zinc supplement.

This might make it difficult to draw any definite conclusions, but this is my experience.

How I recovered from hair loss

Hair loss
Although I had diffuse hair loss, it was significantly worse on the left side, which indicates increased DHT levels, possibly caused by low zinc levels. This is unwashed hair. (photo was taken in mid – 2016).
diffused hair loss on male head
I noticed diffused hair loss and hair became sparse along the parting in my hair. The photo was taken after wash. (Dec. 2016).
regrowth of my hair on a vegan diet
My diffuse hair loss stopped after taking zinc picolinate. I noticed significant regrowth and my hair along the parting started to look better (Mid 2018).

As I mentioned earlier in the article, I enjoyed having very long and thick hair for many years, and then things changed.

Not knowing what the cause was, my hair continued to shed despite eating a very healthy diet. It took me many months to discover that I was deficient in zinc and that it was contributing to my poor skin and hair loss that I had been experiencing.

Within weeks of supplementing zinc, my immune system improved, my skin got better, and my thankfully my hair started to improve dramatically. I noticed less hair loss when I had a shower, and the quality of my hair was so much better as well.

To increase my zinc levels I took zinc picolinate for several months at 100 mg per day. I then lowered it to 50 mg per day, and sometime after when I felt thing were better, I lowered it to 22 mg per day.

I now continue to supplement zinc on a daily basis. Since I’ve been doing that, not only do I have all of the benefits I mentioned, but I’ve not been sick once in almost 2 years!

And finally, one way you can sure that you don’t become deficient in essential vitamins and minerals that are required for hair grown, you can take a supplement that has been designed for vegans. Check out my list of the best vegan vitamins for hair growth.

Note: I’ll update this post in the near future with better and higher quality pictures of my hair.

References 

1. Analysis of Serum Zinc and Copper Concentrations in Hair Loss
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3870206/

2. The therapeutic effect and the changed serum zinc level after zinc supplementation in alopecia areata patients who had a low serum zinc level.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20523772/

3. Causes of hair loss and the developments in hair rejuvenation.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18498491/

4. Nutritional factors and hair loss.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12190640

5. Nutrition of women with hair loss problem during the period of menopause https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4828511/

6. Serum Vitamin D3 Level in Patients with Female Pattern Hair Loss https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5007917/

7. Serum ferritin and vitamin d in female hair loss: do they play a role?https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23428658/

8. Effect of Pumpkin Seed Oil on Hair Growth in Men with Androgenetic Alopecia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4017725/

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